Category Archives: Annotated Games

The Common Problem Of Following A Pattern Without Understanding It

Last week, I wrote about the importance of learning and teaching through comparing similar but different situations. Again and again this theme pops up, and is easy to miss if one is not careful. It is easy to memorize a pattern without understanding its context and purpose, or more charitably, to have understood it once but getting it mixed up with another pattern during the heat of battle. What is the solution? Sometimes the solution is just to review concrete details. Sometimes the solution is to remember a higher-priority pattern that gives real force and justification to the pattern at hand.

Here’s an example I recently saw, involving the elementary Lucena position which is a win for the side with the Rook and Pawn versus Rook, if one understands the fundamental concept, which is “building a bridge” in order to block the opposing Rook’s checks and therefore ensure Pawn promotion.

Lucena position

The standard easy win for White is to

  1. Chase Black’s King further away from the Queening square by checking.
  2. Lift the Rook to the 4th rank in preparation to “build a bridge”.

However, White in eagerness to “remember” the key pattern, that of the Rook lift, failed to perform the first critical step, and the result was a draw by mistake! Building the bridge is pointless if it only results in Black’s King reaching the advanced Pawn and gobbling it up.

The solution to this mistake is to remember that the primary goal in this position is not to build the bridge. The real goal is to successfully Queen the Pawn, and getting Black’s King far away is the most important part of that, not the bridge building. The bridge building is not the goal, but the means to the larger goal. Without remember this, it is too easy to just vaguely remember one aspect of what the winning technique is, and use it outside of the larger context.

Franklin Chen

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San Pedro Escapes the Four Knights of the Apocalypse!

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the original meaning of apocalypse is an uncovering, translated literally from Greek as a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation, although this sense did not enter English until the 14th century. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden. Christians changed the meaning to ‘end of the world’ because the Apocalypse of John is about the end of the world.

In this case, what was revealed is that my opponent does not know how to play the Four Knights variation of the Sicilian Defense and is weak in middle games. However, he avoided the blunders that would have allowed me to win this game. I settled for a draw against an inexperienced player while I was up two pawns. On move number 34 I was inspired to look at an idea, but I got impatient and I rejected it before I realized that it actually wins. I was preparing to move out of my apartment over Labor Day Weekend and I wanted to end this game before I moved out and took a time out from my remaining games. If I had been more patient I would have found the winning ideas. Mr. Generoso was generous in giving me those two pawns and he may have thought that it was the end of the world while he was struggling to draw down material. ;-)

I took that lazy man’s shortcut and played the way I had played in two previous chess games. The first time that I had an endgame with my Rook on the queening square and my opponent’s Rook behind my passed pawn was at the State of Florida Chess Championship of 1986. If I remember correctly, my opponent was a 1200 rated player. He blundered by moving his King to the third rank and that allowed me to move my rook off the queening square with check and then queen the passed pawn. The second time I had this kind of endgame I played more than 60 moves before I realized that I could not force a win and that my opponent was not going to blunder. After this game I am going to endeavor to avoid having my Rook in front of a passed pawn again!

This game was my second draw and Pedro’s only draw so far. What is even more embarrassing for me is that Pedro has three losses so far in this section. At the time that I am writing this I have four draws and no wins or losses in this section. I need to win at least one of my two remaining games in order to get second place in this section.

Mike Serovey

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Basic Endgames Teach How To Tie Together Mathematics And Logic

In the game of chess, each lowly Pawn has the potential to promote to a powerful Queen by advancing all the way to the 8th rank. Also, there’s a remarkable rule that if one side cannot make any legal moves, the game is actually a draw, rather than a loss for the paralyzed side. These two facts create the phase of a chess game called the endgame, where a player has the opportunity to out-think and out-trick the opponent.

Logic

Chess has a well-deserved reputation for being a game of logic. Indeed, fundamentally the game really is a matter of logic, in the sense that everything is about managing the fact that everything boils down to “if I do this, then she can do that, but then I can do this other thing”, and therefore a decision tree of immense breadth and depth. Nowhere is this more true than in the endgame, where being one move ahead of the other side may mean the difference between a win and a draw: and in fact, being one move ahead does not always win, but sometimes even loses (in situations called Zugzwang where getting somewhere first means the other side can make a waiting move and then pounce).

For example, a basic endgame position everyone must learn is the following King and Pawn versus Pawn position. Black to move, there is only one move that draws; the other two moves lose.

This is a perfect position to use to teach children how to think logically, even if they don’t otherwise play chess. They don’t even need to know how to checkmate with a Queen against King. You can just teach them how the King and Pawn work, and set the goal for White as being to get the Pawn to the 8th rank without its being captured. In fact, I think chess would be much more useful in teaching logic if play was arranged starting from simplified positions in endgames, skipping the much more complex phases of the opening and middlegame.

Meta-reasoning

Once a chess player begins applying logical reasoning, an observant player will observe that she is reusing certain patterns in reasoning again and again. This is where reasoning about reasoning, or meta-reasoning, comes in. The concept of “taking the opposition” in chess is one of the simplest examples. In the position above, Black draws by arranging it so that if White’s King advances, Black’s King is in position to “take the opposition” and prevent further progress. So the principle of opposition is not a part of the game of chess, but part of how we can reasoning about the game of chess. A chess player could in theory just apply the “rule” of opposition to play chess well, but without actually understanding why it works, would be missing a huge part of what chess is about: discovering patterns, proving facts about them (this is the “meta-reasoning”), and applying the patterns as building blocks.

Mathematics

This leads to the topic of mathematics in chess. I take the point of view that certain ways of effectively making decisions in chess amount to doing mathematics, going beyond just logic: arithmetic, algebra, geometry. There are many connections to be made here that, when made explicit, can greatly aid in transferring skills out of chess itself.

For today, I’ll just mention a connection with arithmetic and geometry. In the position below, White to move can win, but only by very precise play. The aim is to prevent Black from taking the opposition, and then for White to take the opposition and reduce the problem to the previously mentioned position. The concept of reducing to a previously proved fact is fundamental to logical reasoning, of course. So where does the mathematics come in?

First of all, it must be understood that there is a race between the two Kings to get to one of the critical squares in front of White’s Pawn that will determine whether White can win: White must get the King to d6, e6, or f6. So there may be some kind of counting implicit in whatever logical reasoning is used.

From a geometrical point of view, what is important to understand is that because Kings have to move either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, “distance” on the chess board is not the same as the “bird’s eye view” visual spatial distance: chess operates on a more abstract geometrical space where, for example, all things being equal, diagonal moves can get a King somewhere much faster than just horizontal or vertical moves.

Arithmetic comes in to tie in this geometric insight with the logic-based goal-setting and reduction: the simple way to determine whether this position is a win for White is to count how many moves it takes to reach a desired square, and to count whether Black can stop this. Arithmetic is basically a meta-reasoning shortcut for otherwise engaging in low-level “if this, then that” logical reasoning. Here, we see that White can, in 3 moves, reach d5 unimpeded, because in 2 moves, Black can at most reach f6. Then we tie up the reasoning with one bit of logic/geometry: after White’s King is on d5 and Black’s King on f6, Black’s King must go to e7 to prevent White from getting to d6. But then this allows White to get to e5, taking the opposition and winning the game.

I believe that this endgame position is very instructive for showing how to apply multiple levels and styles of logical and mathematical understanding to be able to guarantee a desired result. Any student who can master (as tested by playing out as either side to the optimal result) and be able to explain the evaluation of each position in which the Pawn is on e4 and the other Kings are on any other squares on the board will have demonstrated a real understanding of logical reasoning.

Franklin Chen

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The Temptation To Play Safe Can Prevent Improvement

A student of mine lost a game almost straight out of the opening as a result of facing Alekhine’s Defense as White and overextending and losing the advanced e5 Pawn; there may have been drawing chances later in the game, but losing the e5 Pawn at move 13 was not fun:

Avoid overreacting to the loss

This kind of thing happens to all of us: we can play too aggressively or carelessly, and end up losing. That’s natural. But how we respond to our failure can determine whether we improve or simply get demoralized. In his disappointment, he suggested that maybe he should meet Alekhine’s Defense with the cautious d3, protecting the e4 Pawn and refusing to play into Black’s provocative idea of causing White to advance with e5.

OK, d3 is objectively not horrible, so why not play this? There are a couple of reasons:

  • If Black plays …e5, then you as White are playing a Philidor reversed with an extra move. Now, if you already play the Philidor as Black, this might well be just fine for you.

    But if you don’t play the Philidor as Black because you don’t like the cramped positions, then why would you want to play it in reverse as White? From a psychological point of view, it makes no sense to open the game with e4 if you don’t have a clear plan on taking on the Alekhine.

  • If you do not play e5, you are passing up a great opportunity to learn how to try to use a space advantage in chess. This is an important skill to work on. In less “unusual” openings the the Alekhine, White has to fight hard to get an undisputed space advantage, so it is a shame not to take up the challenge immediately when it is presented on move 2.

Take a middle path

In the game, White played the ambitious Four Pawns Attack against the Alekhine, trying to support the e5 Pawn with the f-Pawn, etc. Another wrong lesson to learn would be that White should not play the Four Pawns Attack. It is quite playable, if one is tactically precise. So I could advise studying all the various tricky lines Black has against the Four Pawns Attack.

But for an improver, I advise taking a middle path. Instead of either cowering in fear with d3 or going all out with the Four Pawns Attack, there are two other possible variations for White that are positionally quite sound and should ensure White a pleasant game with a space advantage, and completely avoid the problem of a possibly overextended e5 Pawn.

The Modern Variation with 4 Nf3 is quite sound, intending to recapture on e5 with the Knight if necessary. The Exchange Variation with 4 exd6 is also sound, dissolving the e5 Pawn entirely. So I advise learning the ideas behind one of these variations before embarking on other possible variations against the Alekhine.

The advantages of taking a middle path:

  • The solid positional approach is always useful to learn and understand, even if later on one chooses the sharper approach.
  • If is not yet prepared for tactical trickery, it is quite justifiable for an improver to step back from it and save exploration of sharp lines for later.
  • It can sometimes be useful to build up confidence after an annoying loss by avoiding an awkward line in any case.

Franklin Chen

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Your Pawn Is Threatened: Do You Defend, Advance, Or Trade?

In a chess game, both sides start out with a complete front line of Pawns, which means that to make progress, you have to break through that front line somehow. The only way to break through is to advance your own Pawns and bring out your pieces to attack your opponent’s front line. At some point, a head-to-head clash occurs in which one side’s Pawn is attacked by a Pawn from the other side. The question then is always:

  • Do I advance my Pawn past the attacking Pawn (if not otherwise blocked)?
  • Do I capture my opponent’s Pawn with mine (usually meaning a trade, unless it was a deflecting gambit)?
  • Do I defend my Pawn (or overprotected it, if it was already defended)?

This question pops up early in the opening in particularly interesting fashion in the King’s Indian Defense, in which Black challenges White’s d4 Pawn with a Pawn to e5 that “threatens” the d4 Pawn.

At club level, I see players respond in each of the different ways, and sometimes I get asked “what is best?” The truth is, despite the particular popularity of certain responses at elite level, all three are definitely valid reactions at club level; in fact, I see White winning many games playing each way. The important thing is to know the reason behind each valid choice.

Even if you don’t play the King’s Indian Defense for either color, the strategic ideas are extremely interesting and worth studying, and can pop up in many openings.

Here is a typical decision point (I have chosen the “old main line” rather than the modern main line because it illustrates the themes more clearly). I want to discuss the fundamental ideas, not go into detailed opening variations: for that, you can consult an appropriate opening manual.

Closing the center

At club level, it is very common to see White immediately close the center by advancing d5, avoiding a trade of the d4 Pawn. Why would you want to do that?

Pros

  • Forever avoid any threats against the d4 Pawn, especially in light of Black’s fianchettoed Bishop on g7.
  • Forever avoid having an e4 Pawn exposed on a half-open e-file (if Black chose to capture with …exd4).
  • Gain space on the Queen side.

Cons

  • Black’s Knight gets a great outpost at c5, which is now a hole no longer covered by White’s d4 Pawn.
  • Black can plan to maneuver to get in an …f5 Pawn break attacking White’s e4 Pawn and gaining space on the King side.

If you play this as White, you have committed to trying to win on the Queen side, by somehow advancing b4 to dislodge the Black Knight and somehow getting the c5 Pawn break in or taking control of the a-file or something. You are not going to win on the King side.

Exchanging Pawns

Also popular at club level is immediately exchanging Pawns.

Pros

  • As with closing the center, you no longer have to worry about the d4 Pawn.
    As with closing the center, your e4 Pawn is safe and Black’s fianchettoed Bishop is blocked in.

  • You retain a space advantage because of the c4 Pawn controlling d5 and possibly having plans to get to c5.

Cons

  • Giving up control of the c5 square.
  • The resulting Pawn structure leaves White with no immediate Pawn break but Black may have plans to maneuver to enable …f5.

If you play this as White, you have committed to trying to win on the Queen side, by somehow advancing b4, c5, b5, something like that. You are not going to win on the King side.

Holding the center

Finally, the most interesting option for White is to hold the center. I think it’s useful to gain experience with the first two approaches above in order to appreciate why it might be beneficial but also risky to hold the center.

Pros

  • White continues to develop.
  • Black is denied the c5 square.
  • Black remains cramped, because the Knight on d7 has no place to go.
  • White keeps the option of advancing or trading any time in the future as desired, if Black does not capture first. In the case of Be3, White has a possible plan of preparing d5 followed immediately by Nd2 to protect the e4 Pawn.

Cons

  • Black may capture on d4, freeing up c5 for the Knight, opening the dark diagonal, and half-opening the e-file.

Be3 is one of three common ways to continue developing while “waiting” for Black to do something, and the most subtle. It protects the d4 Pawn more, in anticipation of Black capturing it.

Now Black is the one with a choice: take up the challenge or put pressure on White’s e4 Pawn to force White to make a decision about advancing or trading. Many variations are possible, and I’m not discussing them here, but the point is that both sides are subtly fighting over what to do and what to encourage the other side to do. Note that if Black plays the waiting move …c6, White’s d5 suddenly has a lot more effect than when Black’s Pawn was on c7. Also, if Black plays …Re8, again, White can play d5 making Black’s Rook look funny on the closed e-file. Finally, after …Ng4, White can argue that this does nothing other than misplace the Knight.

Another way to hold the center

Qc2 is another way to hold the center, with a double purpose:

  • Overprotect the e4 Pawn.
  • Prepare to play Rd1 protecting the d4 Pawn and also threatening to capture on e5 with a discovered pin.

A third way to hold the center

Finally, Re1 is also another way to hold the center. It may look mysterious, but the point is to play Bf1 to “discover” overprotection of the e4 Pawn.

Franklin Chen

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Accept The Sacrifice If The Alternative Is To Lose Anyway

When I was in my final year of high school, I played in the last tournament of my life before I returned to chess two decades later: I played in the 1987 Michigan High School Team Championship. I ended up winning the first board prize with a perfect score of 5 points, but I always felt funny about how I achieved that, because in one of my games I played a sacrifice that I felt guilty about for two decades. Also, that was the only tournament in my life that I ended up losing my score sheets for, so I do not even have the full score of that game. But I do remember vividly the moves leading up to the critical position, and my mindset.

Seeing the possibility of a Greek gift sacrifice

On move 10 out of the opening, I suddenly spent a huge amount of time deciding whether to play the “Greek gift” sacrifice against my opponent’s King, sacrificing my Bishop on h7 with check.

But in my attempt to calculate a win, I could not find a forced win. I saw defensive resources, so I was reluctant to play an unsound sacrifice. But the idea of playing the sacrifice really appealed to me. You have to understand that I had never played the Greek gift sacrifice before, only read about it in books, and also I knew this might be the last chess tournament of my life, as I was going off to college in the fall, and I had actually “retired” from chess in my sophomore year of high school, and came out to play in the Michigan High School State Championship only because I had started up a chess club in my high school in the fall in hope of boosting my college application (I brought four teammates who had never played in a tournament before). I outrated my opponent by over 500 USCF rating points, so there was no need for me to play recklessly to win, so my motivation was just to finish my chess-playing days in style.

I did see that I would get compensation for the sacrifice, and therefore should not lose if I played the sacrifice, but that was all I could see. Even after I went home to analyze the game, because I did not have access to good computational power in the 1980s, I did not believe I had the full truth of the position until the 2000s, on my return to chess, when chess engines by then had become very strong.

Sacrifice declined!

I was simultaneously ashamed and relieved when my opponent thought only briefly and declined the sacrifice, and therefore easily lost, being a Pawn down without compensation, and having a weakened King side also.

My opponent must have concluded that my deep thought meant I had figured everything out, but in fact, my deep thought came from not having figured it out! Granted, I was much higher-rated than my opponent, but higher-rated players can make terrible moves too, and sometimes even deliberately as a swindle, so you should think for yourself for a bit, and not always assume your higher-rated opponent has everything figured out. Granted, psychologically it was clearly a shocker to him that I thought mysteriously for such a long time moves before the sacrifice.

In club play, I often see fear of accepting sacrifices, and painful losses resulting from declining. The loss is usually painful because a sacrifice significantly disrupts a position, so if your position is disrupted anyway, and there is no visible immediate mate, maybe you might as well grab some material for your trouble; if the attack goes wrong, then you may have a good chance of consolidating and winning as a successful defender. Part of chess is choosing to defend.

So I’m saying, accept the sacrifice if you honestly do not see anything wrong with doing so. You might be making a mistake, but at least make the mistake and lose rather than choosing the path of sure loss, losing material against a much higher-rated player.

How sound was the sacrifice?

The fact that White is missing the dark-squared Bishop and only has a Queen and two Knights really restricts White from having a win in this position. The only possible things White can do are try to push h4, maybe castle Queen side, and use the two Rooks somehow. Meanwhile, Black can defend the King and develop. Note that if White tries to win back an exchange, the result is an unfavorable balance of material in which White gets a Rook and a Pawn or two for two minor pieces, so it is no use for White to regain material.

I’ve inserted some variations into my annotations below.

Irony: there could have been an alternative Greek gift sacrifice!

The irony is that if I had played Nc3 instead of Bd2, and “normal” development had continued, with Black “castling into it”, then the Greek gift sacrifice would have been obviously sound and winning. The huge difference is that with White’s dark-squared Bishop still on the board, and guarding the Knight on g5, White does not have to support the Knight with the Queen, but can calmly play h4, followed by Qg4, with a deadly barrage of discovered checks to follow: a check with the Queen or with the Bishop on c1 if the King goes to h6.

Note that it is important to play h4 first, to avoid Black’s tempo-gaining …f5 against the Queen on g4, because with the Pawn on h4 first, then h5+ can be played at any time, and optimally when Black’s King on g6 cannot escape to f5. Check it out with a computer engine if you want to verify that it’s a quick win for White.

Why did I play Bd2 anyway? I had some vague idea that getting rid of Black’s “good” Bishop for my “bad” one was advantageous. Also, note that I recaptured “wrong” with Nbxd2; I just recently wrote an article about why Qxd2 is usually best. But in 1987, my positional understanding was not so good.

Some resources on the Greek gift sacrifice

A well-written overview by GM Daniel Naroditsky.

A previous Chess Improver article by Ashvin Chauhan.

A 2012 game of mine in which I played a correct Greek gift sacrifice.

The game (up to the point of the sacrifice)

Franklin Chen

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Don’t Be In A Hurry To Regain Sacrificed Material

I have been discussing gambits with a student of mine, to explore the concept of positional sacrifice, a sacrifice of material with long-term positional objectives rather than with a clear immediate tactical winning shot. A position came up that illustrates a dilemma that often comes up when playing a positional sacrifice: when do you “cash in” your advantage? Very often, the logical result of a positional sacrifice is boxing in your opponent in such a way that tactics become possible, such as regaining your lost material. It is very tempting, after having played a Pawn down for much of the game, to see a way to finally win the Pawn back and do so, and in fact, in many situations it is entirely appropriate to win back your sacrificed Pawn “with interest”, retaining a positional advantage. But often it is actually counterproductive to “cash in” too early, if that results in giving up much of the non-material advantage you have so carefully accumulated.

Here’s an example, in which White is down an h-Pawn but finally has a chance to win Black’s h-Pawn in return. Unfortunately, doing so is terrible and results in a dead equal position in which White has nothing to look forward to and even has to be careful. Instead, White can ignore the fact of being a Pawn down and continue to build up with deadly pressure. Let’s look at why.

Assessing the position

First, let’s look at the position with White to move.

White has more space, with a Pawn on e5, a powerful dark-squared Bishop on f6 restricting Black’s activity, a grip on c5, active Rooks doubled on the h-file, and a Queen attacking Black’s Rook on h7.

Black has a pitiful Rook on h7 that is completely immobile and under attack, a Queen on g8 that is tied to defending that Rook, a light-squared Bishop that has no possible moves, a Rook on d8 that can barely move, and a dark-square Bishop on c7 that is currently attacking nothing (there is no hope of getting at White’s e5 Pawn).

So for a mere Pawn, White has a tremendous-looking position. The question is, how to cash in eventually?

What taking back the h-Pawn accomplishes

Taking the Black Pawn on h6 throws away all of White’s advantage:

  • Black gets to trade off his worst piece on the board, the trapped Rook on h7.
  • Black gets to swoop down and activate the Queen by checking on White’s unprotected back rank.
  • Tactically, the threat to win White’s f2 Pawn forces White to retreat horribly with Nd1, self-pinning the Knight (which wants to go to e4) and making it do nothing other than defend the f2 Pawn.
  • Black can start putting pressure on White’s d4 Pawn, and think about swinging the Rook to the open g-file and coming down.
  • White no longer has any threats. The Bishop on f6 was once a powerful piece keeping Black’s Rook on h7 trapped against its own h-Pawn, but both of those are now gone. White’s Queen is now just guarding the d4 Pawn.

I’ve given a sample bad continuation by White to illustrate how quickly Black can actually end up winning, if White tries to continue an “attack”.

Continuing the pressure instead

The alternative to winning the Pawn back is to observe that Black has serious problems with the Rook trapped on h7. White can try to win the Rook eventually, by driving Black’s defensive Queen away from protecting it. Rh3 and Ne4 and Rg3 not only improve White’s pieces in general but also serve to restrict Black’s activity and aim to win Black’s Rook.

A defensive counter-sacrifice!

It turns out that the only real try for counterplay by Black to avoid losing the Rook is to open up the position and try to activate the light-squared Bishop. Sacrificing the c-Pawn with …c5 is the best chance for Black, to get the Bishop to …c6, where it exerts power over the light-squared diagonal to h1, and also can at least, if needed, trade itself for White’s powerful Knight on e4.

So it is ironic that White’s best plan is to ignore the Pawn on h6 and instead force Black to give up the c-Pawn instead as a defensive sacrifice. After White gains the c-Pawn, of course, White has a huge advantage still, but at least Black is still surviving and has some practical chances.

Franklin Chen

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The Difference Between a Knight Developed at c3 and at d2

There is a well-known trap in the Bogo-Indian Defense that raises an interesting question whenever I show it to someone. The trap is as follows and involves a question of how White should recapture after a trade of Bishops by Black:

The question after this trap is always, “Well, why would White ever want to play Qxd2 anyway, exposing the Queen to an attack by …Ne4? Isn’t it obviously better to recapture with Nbxd2, simultaneously developing the Queen Knight?” This is an excellent question. It is best answered by examining some long-term issues in the middlegame arising from this opening.

Comparing Knight developed at c3 and Knight at d2

Knight at c3

First, we look at what can happen if Black mistakenly allows White to recapture the Bishop with Qxd2 instead of Nbxd2, by not taking White’s Bishop early enough for the “trap”.

Black’s plan in this variation of the Bogo-Indian is to play …d6 and …e5, attacking White’s Pawn on d4 and encouraging White to close the center with d5. After the center is closed, all attention must be directed toward Pawn breaks by either side.

White is acknowledged by theory to have some advantage in this opening, having more space and a lead in development, and can think about attacking either on the Queen side (with plans such as a3, b4, c5) or on the King side (with plans such as e4, Ne1, Nd3, f4). But Black has a solid position, and can aim for counterplay with …a5 with …Na6 or …Nbd7 aiming for …Nc5, and/or …c6, to prevent White from gaining too much ground on the Queen side, and perhaps preparing slowly for …f5 to further attack White’s e4 Pawn chain base.

Knight at d2

By contrast, let’s see what happens when Black correctly forces White to recapture the Bishop with Nbxd2.

below is a sample continuation, in which at move 13, probably White’s best move is the paradoxical undeveloping move Nb1! The Knight at d2 is not doing much, being blocked by White’s own c4 and e4 Pawns. More important, it is not controlling the important a4 square (that Black can possibly aim to occupy with …a4), and it is not controlling the b5 square that could also be important (in a later attack against Black’s c7 and d6).

But this retreat wastes two moves (the original Nbxd2 and the Nb1) before getting to c3. However, in the Qxd2 situation, White wasted a move with the Queen, which is not so well-placed on d2: White’s Queen is actually better placed on d1, where it controls a4, than on d2. But White’s Rooks are not connected, so White will eventually want to develop the Queen anyway, perhaps to c2. So overall, White has lost one move, net, and, and this does make some difference in White advantage, even in a closed position, because the extra White move in the Nc3 variation makes it that much harder for Black to catch up in development and begin counterplay.

Summary

The summary of the situation is that paradoxically, since White wants the Knight on c3 anyway eventually, “saving” time by recapturing with development by playing Nbxd2 actually ends up wasting a move because the Knight will have to spend two more moves to get back to c3. Knights are funny pieces because any time a Knight has a choice to go to one of two different squares, if it chooses to go to one of them, it will always require two more moves to get to the alternate square. This is something to think about when planning Knight maneuvers: it is efficient, when possible, to plan to get to a desired square with the smallest number of moves possible (given the tactical constraints).

The other point to remember is that “wasting” moves to get a Knight to a good square may be justified. “Backwards” Knight moves are very important in chess, because a Knight on a good square can be so powerful that it is worth spending the time to get the Knight there. Look at how White thematically “undevelops” the Knight on f3, where it is doing nothing, to e1 and then to d3, to control the c5 square and b4 square (in case of a Pawn advance to b4 in the future) and also regain pressure on Black’s e5 Pawn and help support an f4 advance.

Study of typical middlegame positions in the Bogo-Indian can pay off with better understanding of the roles of both of White’s Knights and both of Black’s Knights (Black’s King Knight was not discussed here, but it has plans too).

Franklin Chen

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Smyslov: Master of the ‘Coiled Spring’ Approach

I have always been an admirer of the late Russian Grandmaster, Vassily Smyslov. One of the things that drew me to his games, was his ability to take on cramped positions without becoming passive. He would then, very often unravel his position, rather like a spring which is wound and full of tension before being released. There would then be an explosion in which Smyslov would take space, and begin to relocate his pieces to more advanced positions, very often to carefully prepared squares.

Smyslov’s play, I must say, suits me very well, his style fits very well with mine and the openings I play. For players who play openings or piece setups where development is initially contained to the first 3-ranks and the opponent very often establishes in the centre, studies of his games really can not hurt at all.

Infact, this approach is one of the best ways to become familiar with an opening.

In the following game, I would like to draw your attention to how Smyslov plays quietly and subtely, but remains active (not an easy thing to do!). He controls the situation, playing accurately and responding to his opponent. Steadily, his position improves, and he is able to pounce when his opponent shows an obvious lack of technique and understanding of the type of position.

John Lee Shaw

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Eleven

This chess game is one of my recently completed games form the 2011 Golden Knights Final. Bonsack is the second master that I have drawn in this section and the second highest rated in this section at 2344. Unless I am mistaken, I have drawn a few 2300 rated players in correspondence chess, but I have yet to beat one. So far, I have one loss, two draws and no wins in this section.

I am moving out of my current apartment this weekend and my opponent knew that I was taking a month off from chess for this move. I think that he felt sorry for me and that may be why he offered a draw in a position that favored him. Whatever the real reason for the draw, I’m glad.

This game transposed into a Benoni Defense. At the points in this game where I say “slightly better is” or “possibly better is”, it is because the chess engines do not agree on the moves and I am unsure myself.

At move number 11 I decided to keep the position closed for a while so that I could restrict the range of White’s bishops. In previous chess games against masters I have gotten burned when my opponent’s bishop pair came to life. I avoided that in this chess game.

Once White’s Knight was firmly established on b5, I could never dislodge it without giving him a passed pawn on the Queenside. That did not favor me, so I eventually decide to go for play on the Kingside by opening it up. That is when White started moving his King over to the Queenside. Not much happened after that.

Mike Serovey

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